The Art and Science of CSS (Book review)

The Art & Science of CSS is not a very thick book, and it doesn’t have to be since it is not a reference book on CSS. It is a rather quick read, but it contains useful and practical tips on how to create certain design elements with CSS. These are tips that you can adapt and use in your own projects.

Five authors have contributed to this book: Cameron Adams, Jina Bolton, David Johnson, Steve Smith, and Jonathan Snook. Bolton, Johnson, and Snook have written one chapter each, while Steve Smith and Cameron Adams have both written two chapters. It’s an author line-up that raises expectations.

There’s not a lot to say about the general structure of the book. There is no introduction to CSS or HTML in here. Instead you jump right in and get working on the examples. During the course of the seven chapters you will find new or different ways of styling, creating, or manipulating headings, images, backgrounds, navigation, forms, rounded corners, and tables. Those are the main topics of each chapter, but in each chapter you will pick up other tips as well.

So, what do I think of this book after reading it? Well, it’s not bad. Plenty of good tips and useful techniques are described in it. It’s not perfect either. I guess it’s partly down to personal preference, but I am not too fond of books that have multiple authors unless there is one main editor that makes sure all chapters are at least reasonably similar in style. I can’t quite put it into words, but to some extent the different styles distract me from the actual content.

Apart from the difference in writing style between the authors, there is also the difference in coding practices for both CSS and HTML. It’s ok for someone who is experienced and can see that the differences are often just personal preferences, but this book is meant for people who aren’t CSS or HTML experts. I can easily imagine how confusing it is to see different approaches to font sizing in different chapters of the same book, with no explanation of why. I think consistency would have been good here.

With that in mind, reading The Art & Science of CSS will teach you how to use CSS to accomplish a number of useful design tasks, so I think it’s worth its price unless you already know most of what there is to know about CSS.

As with all SitePoint books, there are sample chapters you can download to find out if the book is right for you.

The Art & Science of CSS
Authors: Cameron Adams, Jina Bolton, David Johnson, Steve Smith, Jonathan Snook
ISBN-10: 0975841971
ISBN-13: 978-0975841976

Posted on January 29, 2008 in CSS, Reviews


  1. Great review, and you bring up a great point with:

    “I can easily imagine how confusing it is to see different approaches to font sizing in different chapters of the same book, with no explanation of why.”

  2. Wow - awesome lineup.

    However, I can’t help but feel that the CSS book market is getting a bit saturated. It must be intimidating for people who are just getting started with CSS and web standards.

  3. I choosed between this book and a similar book from Friends of Ed: “Web standards Creativity” (reviewed on this site too).

    I picked the other, mostly because it felt like “more”. Still, this book is really great if one does not think WSC is worth its price.

  4. Your review was nicely put together. The book seems interesting although, like you implied, the book seems to be targeted for a very specific audience. It almost seems to be the CSS equivalent of ‘Perl Cookbook’, which is basically a bunch of nice recipes to achieve a given goal (using Perl in that case, but whatever).

    Not that I would have time to read such a book right now, but what I would really like to see out there is a theoretical book on HTML+CSS. No code examples, but the explanation of the foundations and the theoretical limits of the whole framework.

    Anyways, I guess I am a theoretical person, and ‘web design’ is still mostly an artistic venture.

    As always, thanks for the review!

  5. I got my copy yesterday and I’ve only had time to read the first five chapters. It’s mostly well-written and quite useful. The chapter about metaprogramming really made me understand how some of JavaScript’s features work under the bonnet.

    As you said, this isn’t a book meant for CSS and HTML experts. Unfortunately the first chapter, which shows some nifty code for creating sortable tables and draggable columns, uses pretend-XHTML markup along with JavaScript that will only work with the HTML DOM. There is no mentioning the differences anywhere, which means that those who aren’t markup experts will learn some harmful practices. That was a major disappointment, even though I’m well aware of SitePoint’s predilection for pretend-XHTML.

  6. January 30, 2008 by Syed S. Rahman

    Great review, though I’d like to ask you which CSS book would you recommend for someone who is past the average mark?

  7. Tommy Olsson: I think you’re talking about the Art and Science of JavaScript and not the Art and Science of CSS. :)

  8. What you say about the difference in coding practices for both CSS and HTML is right. In this book i think from memory they suggest using ‘p’ instead of ‘ul’, while like you say its personal choice, I thought that was very interesting.

    I have written more about it on my blog

  9. @Jonathan Snook: You’re absolutely right. I was so focused on the JS book since I was just reading it. (blush)

    Ahem …

    Well, The Art and Science of CSS is also a very good book. I especially enjoyed the chapter about form styling, which solves the annoying problems with cross-browser styling of fieldsets.

  10. I will for sure have a look at this book and compare it to the ones I have read last year.

    recently ready book of mine are i.e. Html dog, Transcending css, Web design standards, bulletproof web design and i would really be surpriced if this book cover more issues and ideas then i already learned from the recent purchased…


  11. Great review Roger!

    Now I know that I don’t HAVE to buy this book although I’m sorely tempted by that incredible line-up. I really hope they will get together for a more advanced sequel…

  12. This is really an awesome review! I have read some books about CSS too and I guess this book is really one of the best in terms of references.. :)

  13. For large web sites, improved CSS skill is very important to us. Nice review. Glad you mentioned about the examples. Theory is great but working the examples really makes it stick!

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